Over and over in our study of Romans 8 we saw Paul applying to the Church the blessings that were originally promised to Israel. With the application of so many of Israel’s promises being received by the Church the question arises, “Has God gone back on His promises to Israel?” And the answer is, No! God is the faithful covenant keeping God. The problem is that His promises were misunderstood, they were to true Jews, not to national Israel:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; Romans 9:6 NASB
God’s covenant faithfulness is called into question, so in chapters 9-11, Paul vindicates the covenant faithfulness of God. These chapters are a theodicy, and they show us how Jews and Gentiles fit into God’s plan of salvation.
Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God. They were to be the light of the world. In God’s covenant plan Israel was to be the faithful one through whom the covenant plan was put into operation. But Israel has been unfaithful. Does this mean that God’s covenant plan has failed? Has He given up on Israel and moved to the church? Does He keep His word? What is God going to do?
God doesn’t give up on His covenant plan, what He does is provide a faithful Israelite to fulfill it. The covenant faithfulness of God is revealed through one who will do and be what Israel should have done and been. God will be faithful to the covenant with Abraham, through the one faithful Israelite—Jesus through whom the light will shine to all the world.
In our last study we focused on God’s sovereign calling, His giving mercy to Jews and Israelites in:
even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. Romans 9:24 NASB
We talked last week about the fact that Paul is referring here not to Gentiles but to Israelites, the ten northern tribes. God has called Jews and Israelites just as He said He would. After saying this Paul then quotes four passages from the Hebrew Scripture to support it, two from Hosea and two from Isaiah. The thrust of these passages is the return from exile and restoration—thus dealing not with Gentiles but the house of Israel. God was bringing back a remnant from Israel and from Judah. God’s judgment has fallen on Israel but there is mercy to the remnant.
So we can clearly say the word of God had not failed, God had promised to save a remnant from Israel and Judah, to reunite them into one body and He was in fact doing exactly that. As a result of the re-gathering and reuniting of the remnants from Israel and Judah the Gentiles would then be brought into God’s salvation.
Remember the gospel is to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. We see this in the book of Amos. Amos speaking to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was written just prior to the ten Northern Tribes being carried off into captivity by Assyria. This happened in 721 B.C. Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, and Amos are all contemporaries. The ten Northern Tribes had turned from God and God was going to judge them. So the book of Amos is a warning of coming discipline concerning the nation Israel:
Hear this word which I take up for you as a dirge, O house of Israel. 2 She has fallen, she will not rise again-- The virgin Israel. She lies neglected on her land; There is none to raise her up. Amos 5:1-2 NASB
Notice what God says here of Israel, "She will not rise again." That sounds pretty permanent. But next God promises a remnant:
For thus says the Lord GOD, "The city which goes forth a thousand strong Will have a hundred left, And the one which goes forth a hundred strong Will have ten left to the house of Israel." Amos 5:3 NASB
This is speaking of a remnant that will be left out of Israel. From a nationalistic view, as a physical people, Israel was to fall and not rise again. But God said He would save a remnant. We see this in our text in Amos:
"Are you not as the sons of Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?" declares the LORD. "Have I not brought up Israel from the land of Egypt, And the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? 8 "Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, And I will destroy it from the face of the earth; Nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob," Declares the LORD. 9 "For behold, I am commanding, And I will shake the house of Israel among all nations As grain is shaken in a sieve, But not a kernel will fall to the ground. 10 "All the sinners of My people will die by the sword, Those who say, 'The calamity will not overtake or confront us.' Amos 9:7-10 NASB
These verses proclaim the coming disciplinary judgment upon Israel; but yet, within them there is a bit of hope because when He says that He will destroy them from off the face of the earth He adds, "I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob." But, now, in verse 11, there comes the prophecy of hope in the light of that:
"In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, And wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins And rebuild it as in the days of old; That they may possess the remnant of Edom And all the nations who are called by My name," Declares the LORD who does this. Amos 9:11-12 NASB
This text speaks of God's judgment and destruction of Israel, which is not complete, and which is not permanent. He promised to return and to restore Israel, rebuilding it as in the days of old. But the restoration of the kingdom to Israel is not an exclusive blessing, only for the Jews. It will be, God promises through Amos, a restoration which will enable the Gentiles to seek the Lord and worship Him. The word “nations” is the Hebrew word goy which usually refers to non-Hebrew people or Gentiles.
In Acts 15 at the Jerusalem counsel James confers that this is referring to Gentiles:
"Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. "With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, Acts 15:14-15 NASB
Then James quotes Amos 9:11-12 to support God’s call of the Gentiles. Notice how James quotes Amos 9:12:
SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,' Acts 15:17 NASB
So the New Testament confirms the fact that Amos is referring to Gentile salvation.
As you study the promises of Gentile salvation through the Hebrew Scriptures, you'll find that they are connected to the restoration of Israel. Many prophecies that speak of Israel's restoration speak also of the promise of Gentile salvation, they go together:
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, They shout joyfully together; For they will see with their own eyes When the LORD restores Zion. 9 Break forth, shout joyfully together, You waste places of Jerusalem; For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God. Isaiah 52:8-10 NASB
Let's look at Isaiah 60, this is a Messianic prophecy. It concerns the restoration of Israel; the calling of the Gentiles; and how the Gentiles would view restored Israel:
"Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 "For behold, darkness will cover the earth, And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you, And His glory will appear upon you. 3 "And nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. Isaiah 60:1-3 NASB
The word "nations" here could be and should be translated "Gentiles." God said that when Israel was saved, the Gentiles would also come to the light.
Apart from the New Covenant truth, we would no doubt view these prophesies of restoration as physical; God restoring, redeeming national Israel. But the New Testament writers give us the true meaning of these verses. Notice what God says to Israel through Isaiah:
"And the sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, And all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; And they will call you the city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 60:14 NASB
If we were an Old Covenant Jew, we would understand this prophecy of Isaiah as our Gentile enemies being subservient to us. But Jesus uses this verse and applies it to the Church (Rev. 3:9), that is true Israel, and it is Old Covenant Israel that is persecuting the Church. Jesus said that the Old Covenant Jews were going to come and bow before the feet of the Church, the true Israel. So we see that many of the prophesies given to Israel are spiritually fulfilled in the Church, the new Israel of God.
Alright, so in Romans 9 Paul talks about the remnant that God will bring from Israel and Judah. God will have mercy on only a remnant of the house of Israel.
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Romans 9:18 NASB
But Yahweh will not only have mercy on a remnant of the house of Israel, He will also have mercy on Gentiles:
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; Romans 9:30 NASB
“What shall we say then?” — this is used as a transitional phrase to move to the next stage of the argument. As we come to the end of Romans 9 with its heavy emphasis on God’s sovereignty in salvation, the question arises, How can we know who is chosen and who is not chosen? No one can look at people and say, “You’re chosen” and “You’re not chosen.” How, then, do we know who is in and who is out? Paul gives us the answer in verses 30-33 and it is surprisingly simple. We know who is chosen and who is not chosen by how they respond to Jesus. The chosen believe!
“Righteousness” — if you remember our study of Romans 1:17, you’ll remember that I said that the phrase, “the righteousness of God” is used covenantally speaking of God's faithfulness to the covenant with Israel. In Isaiah when the prophet celebrates the righteousness of God he continually goes back to God's covenant faithfulness. God's dikaiosune is that aspect of His character because of which, despite Israel's sin and consequent banishment, God will remain true to the covenant with Abraham.
Understanding that, I believe that when Paul talks about righteousness here, it is the equivalent of saying “covenant membership”. The Gentiles, who did not “pursue” — this is the Greek word dioko which means to run swiftly in order to catch some person or thing. Metaphorically, to seek eagerly. They weren’t seeking covenant membership. But they “attained” — katalambano, to lay hold of so as to make one’s own, to appropriate. The Gentiles who made no effort, got it. This reinforces what Paul said in:
So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. Romans 9:16 NASB
They didn’t will or run, but God chose them and called them into covenant membership—this is sovereign election. The reason that Gentiles attained righteousness can be attributed to one thing alone: the mercy of God. We must not stray from this vital truth. Salvation is nothing less than a sovereign act of God in mercy toward sinners.
“The righteousness which is by faith” — the reference to faith shows that human response is imperative, but the ultimate source of such faith is God’s merciful election.
So how did the Gentiles attain covenant membership? God pursued Gentiles by grace. Nothing in them, nothing around them, nothing worthy, and not even right motive helped them. But God, rich in mercy and the great love with which He loved us, pursued Gentile sinners to save them by grace (Eph. 2:4-7). The human response to God’s sovereign election is—faith. But understand that we only respond in faith because God gives us the faith:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB
To what does the demonstrative pronoun, “that” refer? It refers to the nearest preceding noun “faith.” Our faith is a gift of God. The evidence, and as far as I understand it, the only objective evidence that a person is one of God’s elect is that they believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 1 John 5:1 NASB
The reason a person believes is because they have been born of God. Paul goes on to say:
but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Romans 9:31 NASB
Israel pursued righteousness, covenant membership, but they never arrived at it. The word “pursuing” comes from the realm of hunting. It’s the same word that would be used for a hunter pursuing his prey or a dog chasing a rabbit. There’s aggressiveness to it. Paul indicates that the Jews pursued righteousness in that way.
Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, Romans 9:32 NASB
They pursued the law as though it didn’t bring the knowledge of sin and stop every mouth and make everyone guilty before God, but as though it were really possible to provide themselves with righteousness by keeping the commandments. They viewed their obedience to the law as the means to produce righteousness.
Notice what Paul says in Galatians:
However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM." Galatians 3:12 NASB
If you want to live by the law, you must do it; not try to do it, not intend to do it, and not even want to do it. No, it is only the man who does them who shall live by them.
Paul cites this text as proof that the governing principle for law-keepers is works, not faith. If one chooses to live under law, then he must operate within the governing principle of works, while one who chooses grace must live by faith.
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. Romans 3:27 NASB
What kind of Law excludes boasting? The Law of works doesn’t, if you work, you have something to boast about, but the Law of Faith does, because faith is a gift of God.
The “works of the Law” for a Jew were not miscellaneous moral activities. They were the things which the Torah prescribed, which marked out the Jew as different from his pagan neighbor. The works of the Law referred to three things in particular: circumcision, the Sabbath, and the purity laws. And these were all things that the Jews boasted in.
So Paul says that boasting is excluded by “The Torah of faith” — this is not a principle, but the true teaching of Torah. The Torah was a call to faith, to trust in God; read Hebrews 11: “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain,” “By faith Enoch was taken up”, “By faith Noah...prepared an ark for the salvation of his household,” “By faith Abraham...lived as an alien in the land of promise”.
The Jews scrupulously obeyed the law, offered a river of animal blood on the altar of sacrifice, kept the dietary laws, established the priesthood, and in general tried to “play by the rules.” But the whole point of the law was to point to Jesus Christ who would one day fulfill the law in his life, death and resurrection.
Covenant membership, righteousness, is not by human effort. They were seeking to be justified by works and thus were striving to attain to a position which no man can reach. The whole plan of salvation is so ordered that no flesh can glory in His presence.
so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD." 1 Corinthians 1:31 NASB
We have nothing to boast in. We were made covenant members by the call of God. Our only responsibility is to believe the gospel. Man has a responsibility to believe but he does not have the ability. Why does God command us to do what we cannot do? To show us the depth of our depravity. We can’t do it because we’re fallen, we are separated from God by our sin. If salvation is ever going to come, it must be applied sovereignly. The Jews sought it by works, human effort and so:
“They stumbled over the stumbling stone” — Paul quotes Isaiah 8:14. Isaiah predicted that they would stumble on a stumbling stone.
"Then He shall become a sanctuary; But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Isaiah 8:14 NASB
By the way, this passage directly refers to God. God is the stone in Isaiah 8:14. In the New Testament Christ is the stone. What does that tell you about Christ? He's God. This is another affirmation of His deity.
Peter affirms that Christ is that stone over which the Jews stumbled:
let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by this name this man stands here before you in good health. "He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. Acts 4:10-11 NASB
In the text in Romans it appears that the Torah is the stumbling stone. In the context it is the Torah that has made Israel fall flat on her face. Paul may be alluding to that in that God gave Israel Torah to reveal Christ. Paul seems to be using both of these ideas here.
but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24 NASB
The New Testament affirms over and over that Christ is the stumbling stone.
just as it is written, "BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." Romans 9:33 NASB
Paul quotes here from Isaiah 8:15 and 28:16:
"Many will stumble over them, Then they will fall and be broken; They will even be snared and caught." Isaiah 8:15 NASB
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed. Isaiah 28:16 NASB
So Paul takes these two verses from Isaiah—both of them very familiar to the Jews—and combined them to show that Jesus is both a stumbling stone and a cornerstone. To some he is a “stone that causes men to stumble;” to others he is a cornerstone of life. Those who stumble over Jesus fall to their own destruction. Those who build their lives on him “will never be disappointed.”
Jesus uses this stone motif of himself in the Gospels when talking to the Jewish leaders about the parable of the vineyard. Jesus, in the parable, is telling His audience that He is not a prophet; He is the Son. That is the basis of His authority. He owns the vineyard. He has been sent by His Father to possess what is His. But they will reject Him and put Him to death:
"But those vine-growers said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!' Mark 12:7 NASB
Instead of respecting His Son, the vine-growers saw an opportunity to take the vineyard for themselves. So they took this son and killed him:
"And they took him, and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. Mark 12:8 NASB
The implication in the story was absolutely clear. Now the Son had come to Israel, and they were fulfilling this prophetic parable exactly as our Lord described. They had failed to hear the long line of prophets that God had sent. Now they would reject the word of the Son, and they would kill Him. Jesus is prophesying His own death at the hands of these religious leaders. In a few short days, they will deliver Him to their own authorities and condemn Him to death.
Jesus then applied the lesson of the parable by an appeal to the Scriptures in typical Rabbinic manner. This method of finishing off a parable with a Scripture quotation is regularly found among the Rabbis.
"Have you not even read this Scripture: 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; 11 THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'?" Mark 12:10-11 NASB
Jesus quotes here from Psalm 118:
The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. Psalms 118:22 NASB
He is saying, This very Son that you are rejecting will become the cornerstone of the new temple, of the New Covenant—of a whole new way of life.
Notice who it is that rejects this stone: it is the "builders!" Who should have known a good stone when they saw one? The builders! This referred to the religious leaders, those who should have understood the Scriptures. Yet due to their spinning of God's Word to create a religion of self dependence in legalism, they rejected Jesus Christ.
They were like a bunch of stonemasons, Jesus says, who thought a stone was useless. They studied it and decided that it was the wrong size and the wrong shape and the wrong materials: "Discard it!" they said, and they turned their backs on it, but it turned out to be the cornerstone, the most important stone in the building, but they could never see that. Jesus Christ did not fit the pattern they had in mind for a Savior so they rejected Him.
After quoting from Psalm 118 in the vineyard parable both Matthew and Luke add this:
"Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust." Luke 20:18 NASB
Having established Psalm 118:22 as messianic, Jesus connects it with two other messianic verses about the stone. Isaiah 8:14-15 refers to stumbling on that Stone and Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45 refers to being crushed by it. The Son is on the one hand, a "stone of stumbling," a cause of stumbling to the Jews. But this "stone of stumbling," was soon to be an active agent in their destruction, a stone that crushes and grinds His enemies:
"And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. 45 "Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true, and its interpretation is trustworthy." Daniel 2:44-45 NASB
With this stone metaphor, the biblical writers established that the kingdom God built would be founded upon Jesus Christ. Every detail in its dimensions, shape, size, and form relates directly to Christ. Without the corner stone, the building has no value. Paul expressed this clearly:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22 NASB
Christ is the corner stone to such a degree that "the whole building," all the redeemed through the ages, are fitted and joined together into one, "holy temple in the Lord."
Peter picks up on the same thought:
And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5 NASB
Just as Paul did, Peter describes the body of believers as "a spiritual house" or a temple that exists for the worship, praise, declaration, and glory of our Lord. We're "living stones" that are joined to Jesus Christ "the living stone." He follows in the next verse by declaring Christ "a precious corner stone."
For this is contained in Scripture: "BEHOLD I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." 1 Peter 2:6 NASB
God has made Christ the defining factor of his living temple, and every person who would come to God must find his place in relation to Christ.
The message of Christ crucified, the doctrine of the atonement, was very offensive to Jews who were expecting a royal deliverer. Even with Isaiah 53 before their eyes, the Jews had never dreamed of a suffering Messiah. By Jewish law, anyone who was crucified died under the curse of God. Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13. To the majority of Jews, Christ was a stumbling stone and a rock of offense. At the same time, Christ is a security, a solid rock, for all who put their trust in Him.
The word “disappointed” is from the Greek kataischuno which means to shame because of disappointment in unfulfilled promises. God keeps his promises, that is what these three chapters are all about, and his promises are for those who put their trust in Him, and Him alone. Israel was rejected because of unbelief. But those who believe will not be disappointed!
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